Onondaga County moves to terminate two CPS workers who ‘performed horrifically’

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — On Thursday evening, March 14, at Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon’s State of the County Address, he gave an update on the CPS workers fired as a result of the death of an 11-year-old boy in the City of Syracuse.

McMahon said that the county is working to terminate the CPS workers who “performed horrifically” before Ashton Degonzague was found not breathing in his home — which had urine in bottles and feces in the sink and bathtub — and died at the hospital on March 7.

“When we learned about it, we moved quickly and have taken the steps through the investigation and have gone through the proper steps to terminate the employees. There’s still a due process that they have, but we will be committed, once the criminal investigation is complete to look at all systems, internally, inter-agency systems. One thing I can tell you, it was not a funding issue and it wasn’t a staffing issue. That dept had 134 of 137 positions filled,” said McMahon.

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh told NewsChannel 9 that “deplorable” conditions were found inside the home, “conditions no one should live in, let alone an 11-year-old boy.”

Details obtained by NewsChannel 9 show the violations include “trash, debris, furniture and other items were strewn throughout all of the rooms,” making it “hard to walk through the interior.”

In terms of how Degonzague died, family members at the hospital were told cocaine, fentanyl and cannabis were found in the boy’s body when he died. Syracuse Police and the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office have declined to share more details, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation.

The house at 604 East Division Street was deemed “in compliance” when the last required inspection happened in 2021 as rental properties need required inspections every three years.

However, according to Mayor Walsh, “a lot went wrong” between the time of the last inspection and the boy’s death.

McMahon believes the CPS workers assigned to Degonzague’s case did not do their job.

“We think the employees did not do their job. And we moved as quickly when we had the information that clearly dedicated to that,” said McMahon.

The unpaid administrative leave gives credibility to Degonzaque’s family members’ concerns that their calls to CPS were ignored.

In terms of how this reflects on a more systemic problem, McMahon said it’s “too soon to say.”

“We will look at systems, when I think you look at our initial analysis within the department it does not look be to systemic, it looks to be 2 different employees who really performed at levels that are horrific. Do we need to look at how inter-agencies who touch children talk to each other to see if there’s breakdowns? yes, we will. Will we take another independent look at what we do? yes we will. But our initial analysis is this was not a systemic issue, this was not a cost issue whatsoever, but two employees who performed horrifically,” said McMahon.

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) stated they cannot comment further during an ongoing investigation.

“The New York State Office of Children and Family Services is deeply saddened by the tragic death of Ashton Degonzaque. While the safety and well-being of all New York children is our utmost priority, we cannot comment further during ongoing investigations,” stated OCFS.

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